Mahbuba Moshqur (far right), Robin Auld (3-R), Munira Morshed Munni, Sareka Jahan, Luva Nahid Chowdhury, the writer, Parag Huq and Nahin Idris (from British Council, Bangladesh) at Elstree Studios. Photo: Munira Morshed Munni
Are you a writer/musician/artist/pho-tographer/filmmaker/designer/arts practitioner and haven't quite made it to the top yet? If so, how many times have you heard “but what do you do for a living?” after you mentioned your profession? The idea that any of these are not viable career choices is quite telling of how society recognises them from an economic perspective.
But what if our cultural skills could be translated into a thriving economic activity? It's certainly not an unheard of concept. According to United Nations Creative Economy Report 2013 (Special Edition) -- co-published by UNESCO and UNDP, creative economy is one of the most rapidly growing sectors of the world economy and a highly transformative one in terms of income generation, job creation and export earnings. And that's not all. Creative economy also defines the unique identity of a region where it flourishes, improving the quality of life.
What is 'creative economy'?
The Creative Economy Council defines it as referring to two factors:
A. Creative workers generating new jobs and helping in the development of industries retool for future.
B. Recognition of arts and cultural assets as important economic drivers for a particular region.
At the heart of creative economy are: art, culture, design and innovation.
Countries have realised the significance of creative economy and have taken major initiatives to boost its growth -- the UK being one of them. Reflecting on that, the British Council undertook a Creative Economy Programme that connects the growing creative industries in the UK and overseas.
To present and discuss the concept of creative economy, British Council, Bangladesh hosted a two-day event, titled “Creative Bangladesh” -- featuring a policy dialogue and soft skills workshop -- in Dhaka on March 12 and 13. The event was attended by renowned and emerging local designers, artists, photographers, arts practitioners and policymakers. At the policy dialogue, the panellists were: Bibi Russell, internationally recognised fashion designer; Simon Dancey, Global Director, Cultural Skills Unit, British Council, London and Norah Campbell, Head of Skills Academy, Scotland. Robin Davies, Director, Partnership and Programmes, British Council, Bangladesh facilitated the dialogue.
A recent research was commissioned by the British Council around the potential growth and sustainability of the creative economy in Bangladesh. The research highlighted potential for rapid growth of the creative industries in Bangladesh, particularly in the areas of fashion and design, music, film and publishing. It concluded that this would depend on improved international marketing, increased investment in business development and entrepreneurship in small and medium enterprises, increased government awareness of this area for growth, and increased quality of creative and cultural training and education.
“The creative economy in the UK now employs over 1.5 million people and contributes over 10 percent to the GDP. The UK has much to share from its considerable experience of developing the creative economy and the British Council is committed to supporting the international exchange of ideas and collaboration,” Eeshita Azad, Head of Arts, British Council, Bangladesh said, when asked about the reason behind the research and corresponding programmes.
The policy dialogue covered several areas that can contribute to a creative economy, challenges in those particular sectors and possible solutions. Challenges included intellectual property rights not being upheld, lack of sector specific support, not enough research on creative products in a changing market, absence of awareness generating programmes, no proper integration between education and culture, insufficient training and apprenticeship opportunities etc.
As a follow-up to the two-day event, British Council nominated four industry stakeholders from as many cultural sectors and two officials from the Ministry of Cultural Affairs for a weeklong (March 23-28) exposure trip to the UK.
“The aim was to introduce this group to their UK counterpart; to show the Bangladeshi delegates how UK's cultural economy has benefited from their strong creative industry framework. We hoped that it will inspire ideas and create new networks and connections that will eventually encourage them to do the same for Bangladesh,” said Eeshita Azad.
The group included Luva Nahid Chowdhury, Director General of Bengal Foundation; Munira Morshed Munni, General Secretary, Children's Film Society Bangladesh, Photo Editor, Drik Picture Library and Lecturer, Pathshala South Asian Media Institute; Emdad Haque, fashion designer; Parag Huq, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Cultural Affairs; Mahbuba Moshqur, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Cultural Affairs and this writer. Sareka Jahan, Project Manager, Education (Schools and Skills), British Council, Bangladesh accompanied the group.
At the UK end, the trip was coordinated by Creative & Cultural Skills, one of the several Sector Skills Councils established by the UK Government to foster the development of workforce -- covering crafts, cultural heritage, design, music and performing, literary, visual arts. Aine Markey, Programme Director, Creative & Cultural Skills and Robin Auld, Creative Consultant, The Chalk Box, facilitated the meetings between the Bangladeshi delegates and various UK cultural organisations and policymakers.
The trip provided insight into how Creative Employment programme in the UK has created over thousands of work opportunities for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds who, otherwise, probably wouldn't be contributing to the economy.
A visit to The Backstage Centre and The Royal Opera House's Bob and Tamar Production Workshop in Purfleet, Thurrock, Essex helped us understand how, through empowered local governments, the state can bring about positive changes in underdeveloped areas. A meeting at The Backstage Centre highlighted how important it is to educate, train and develop young people as skilled technicians and backstage crew who can contribute to creative economy.
A tour of Second Floor Studios & Arts in Woolwich, London provided first-hand experience of how over 300 member artists, craft makers and designers -- emerging and established -- can work together and create a dynamic and powerful hub benefiting them all.
A meeting and presentation at British Music House on Berners Street, London introduced us to the idea of 'Music Tourism' and provided insight into copyright issues.
A presentation at Design Council, St John Street, London highlighted how design can impact all spheres of life, create value, and thus directly and indirectly affect quality of life.
During a meeting, Helen Mainstone, Policy Adviser, Creative Industries at Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, talked about the emphasis the UK Government currently puts on creative economy and a tour of Elstree Studios in Borehamwood familiarised us with the concept that local government and heritage preservation authorities can work together and earn revenue through responsible use of venues as filming locations.
On the last day of the trip, while the rest of the team visited School of Creative Arts, University of Hertfordshire to get an understanding of the creative design process, I went to The Guardian headquarters to see how one of the most renowned newspapers in the world operates.
About the particular aspects of the trip that were inspiring and ideas, policies that could be adopted in Bangladesh, Luva Nahid Chowdhury said, “There was a broader learning in how the [UK] government approaches cultural issues, makes policy to fit cultural strategy, how it channels strength in the various cultural sectors to generate gainful employment and monetises such inputs. Clearly most of it is only possible in a developed economy but the insights in terms of an approach could be applied, in moderation, in a less developed setting such as ours. Post my trip, I am inclined to think that a great deal of it is about approach, mindset and attitude rather than financial resources.
“Everything we saw was part of a set of concerted activities toward a common goal, that is, to shape a 'creative nation'. That is a goal we could borrow. For us, it is not so much about 'building' a creative nation -- I firmly believe the strengths are already there, it's more about organising and researching into the rich strata of knowledge that already exists, and building a vision around it.”
Parag Huq said, “This trip has enhanced my understanding of the issues involving creative industries and helped me perceive the immense possibility of this sector in Bangladesh. We need more visible and effective integration of culture, and development policies and strategies.”
“The Ministry of Cultural Affairs could form a Creative Industries Working Group with relevant stakeholders and acknowledge creative industries as a promising sector in Bangladesh. The need for promoting capacity building at all levels for the development of a dynamic cultural and creative sector must be emphasised,” she added.
We all agreed that an international network -- offering collaborative opportunities and resolving issues through sharing experiences -- needs to be formed and British Council could play a key role in this.
ccskills.org.uk (Creative & Cultural Skills)
thebackstagecentre.com (The Backstage Centre)
secondfloor.co.uk (Second Floor Studios & Arts)
ukmusic.org (UK Music)
designcouncil.org.uk (Design Council)
elstreestudios.co.uk (Elstree Studios)
The writer is Editor, SHOUT.